Brit-flick “Pelican Blood” is a film pretty obviously aiming for hip cult appeal, attempting to match the not exactly obvious combination of romance, angst, suicide and bird watching. Directed by Karl Golden (“The Honeymooners”, “Belonging to Laura”), the film was based upon the popular novel by Cris Freddi, with a script from Cris Cole (“Mad Dogs”, “The Good Times Are Killing Me”). Featuring a cast of up and coming British talent including Harry Treadaway (“Fish Tank”), Emma Booth (“The Boys Are Back”), Arthur Darvill (“ Robin Hood”) and Christopher Fulford (“Whitechapel”), the indie production also boasts a perky soundtrack that includes The Coral, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Crystal Castles, The Do, Little Hell and The Specials. The film lands soon on region 2 DVD via Icon Home Entertainment in a standard bare bones edition.
Treadaway takes the lead as Nikko, a fairly unbalanced young man trying, and pretty much failing, to deal with the death of his mother and the break-up with animal rights activist girlfriend Stevie (Booth). Working as a house cleaner by day, Nikko’s main interest in life is bird watching, which he goes off on weekend trips into the countryside for with similarly obsessed friends Cameron (Darvill) and Bish (Ali Craig). His hobby has a darker side, having set himself a target of spotting 500 birds and then killing himself – a figure which he is rapidly approaching. Aside from a few problems with poachers and fellow twitchers (for the uninitiated, this is the collective and fond/vaguely insulting term for bird watchers), Nikko seems quite happy and settled despite his potentially approaching demise, until Stevie flounces back into his life, rekindling their mad passion and pushing him closer to the edge.
Given its wilfully oddball throwing together of different elements, and its emo-friendly suicide premise, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to hear that “Pelican Blood” is a film which tries desperately hard to nail the cool and quirkiness angles. Sadly, its efforts are a bit too transparent and artificial, and the film never really gels or convinces enough to come across as anything more than rather strained. This is mainly due to the fact that it treats issues such as self harm and suicide almost as a fashionable and relatively consequence free lifestyle choice. Although there is certainly something to be said for exploring this kind of subject matter from a skewed perspective, Golden and Cole crucially fail to generate much interest, or even any taboo challenging amusement. The film seems to want to be funny, meaningful and philosophical at the same time, and though it does manage to avoid being dull, it never truly hits any of its targets.
Partly this is due to some sketchy character writing from Cole, who never fleshes out Nikko enough for the viewer to either care about or feel any emotional connection with what could have been a fascinatingly flawed protagonist. The same is even more true of the very one note Stevie, and as a result their relationship falls badly flat. Since their supposed crazy love and mutually self-destructive pairing is at the heart of the film, this is a serious problem, and one which severely undermines its effectiveness.
Funnily enough, the film is definitely at its most enjoyable during the sequences revolving around bird watching, making good use of the bleak English countryside and the inherently weird obsessiveness which comes with the territory. Nikko’s banter and bond with his friends are funny and kind of endearing, and the scenes with him shooting the breeze with Bish and Cameron ring true and make for a few moving and insightful moments. Similarly, though the film’s attempts to derive tension from his suicide scheme never count for much, his third act encounter with some enigmatic though nasty poachers and the violence which ensues injects a few very welcome thrills and threatens to spark things into life.
This isn’t enough and, to use a bad though unfortunately apt pun, “Pelican Blood” never takes flight, even during what could have been charged and painful final moments. Suffering from a transparently calculated and unconvincing premise, lacklustre writing and all-round indifference, even the most undemanding of cardigan wearing angst fans are unlikely to find much here to get excited about.
Karl Golden (director) / Harry Treadaway, Emma Booth, Arthur Darvill (screenplay)
CAST: Harry Treadaway … Nikko
Emma Booth … Stevie
Arthur Darvill … Cameron
Christopher Fulford … DC Thomas
Oona Chaplin … Linda
George Newton … Eddie – Poacher
Emma Clifford … Elaine